July 13, 1863: The New York City draft riots begin.

The United States employed a national conscription system for the first time during the American Civil War via the Enrollment Act of 1863, which established a quota of troops from each congressional district. Commutation was possible - if a draftee could afford to pay $300. Already relations between the diverse groups populating New York City at the time were tense because of job competition, but particularly between poor white laborers and black workers. Now there was the fact that the affluent could pay their way out of the army, and the fact that many fresh, friendless immigrants had been wrangled by political machines into becoming citizens and voting without realizing that this made them eligible to be drafted (whereas black non-citizens were not). Anger over the draft and problems surrounding it and the war as a whole erupted in a four-day riot that ended with over a hundred dead.

Many of the rioters were Irish workers who competed with black workers for the same low wage jobs and, with the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in early 1863, feared further competition as freed slaves headed north, searching for work. Because of these deep-rooted concerns, anger initially directed at the government and conscription soon found a new target/scapegoat: the city’s free black population. On the first day of rioting, the Colored Orphan Asylum was looted and then burned to the ground; black homes and businesses were destroyed, along with buildings affiliated with Republicans and abolitionists. Interracial couples were also attacked, and over a hundred people were killed by furious mobs - one black man was attacked by several hundred people at once, then strung up high and set on fire. At this time, few soldiers were stationed in New York, having been sent south to repel invading Confederate forces. State militias were eventually called in to quell the violence, and it was quelled, but property damage reached several million dollars, and African-Americans subsequently fled the city or relocated out of their mixed race neighborhoods. 

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    When people say “what about the Irish” I just laugh.
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